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How to Hold Attention: The Art of the 2-Minute Comment

BY NICK | 2 min read

A critical business skill you may not have heard about? 

2 minute comments. 

If the average human attention span begins to wane after about 5 minutes of listening, it will serve you to learn how to communicate your messages in roughly 2-minute comments. (Of course, we can hold our attention for longer-- 6 minutes for a PechaKucha, 18 minutes for a Ted Talk, 2 hours for a movie, and roughly 15 hours for a Netflix binge...)

But, in general, if a message does not include cognitive hooks like danger, sexuality, or humor, then the listener’s attention will wander within a couple of minutes. 

As an entrepreneur, it’s best to accept this cognitive benchmark. Sure, you can hack people’s attention, using various methods refined by teachers, entertainers, and marketers but, in your day to day interactions, it’s best to keep this 2-minute rule in mind.

You may have spent some time crafting a 1-minute message or, "elevator pitch" as we often think of it, hoping to get through to an investor or venture capitalist. Now, imagine if you used that clarity and economy of language in every statement throughout your day! 

Take this article for example. Using an elevator pitch formula, I’ll encapsulate this article into two sentences:

“Teachers, researchers, and marketers have found that people tune out verbal information after a couple of minutes. Because of this, it is beneficial to practice the art of communicating in clear statements, ideally less than two minutes long.”

This is not to say that you limit all your human communications to brief, rapid-fire statements. Romantic partners, children, and good friends might start looking at you a little funny. Instead, think of this two-minute guideline as a tool for more effective dialogue, overall. Despite your occasional desire to rant or lecture, it's important to realize that your message will be better received if you chunk it up into segments. Heck, if it's really hit, you'll have officially piqued your audience's curiosity. Instead of tuning you out, your listener will probably thoroughly intrigued! 

According to the National Training Laboratories, people retain less than 10% of what they hear in a lecture, yet, when engaged in discussion, people retain approximately 50% of the information.

Appreciating this, you can use the 2-minute rule to help yourself avoid lecturing while improving your ability to engage others in a two-way discussion. Even better: If you understand that people’s retention rate exceeds 90% when they are given the opportunity to teach, you can use the 2-minute rule to facilitate other people in the act of teaching you. In doing this, you invert the ineffective communication method of lecture and create a mutually beneficial learning experience, improving the attention and retention of all people involved. It's a win-win!

A 90% retention rate pretty well beats >10%! 


Simply: Good entrepreneurs are good teachers, and the best teachers, are those who empower students to teach as they learn.


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